Sunday, September 09, 2007

Using Signs of the Weather

Weather is the condition of the atmosphere at a particular place and time. Lore is a traditional belief. From these two definitions, we get weather lore, which is a collection of proverbs and sayings that have been passed on from generation to generation over hundreds of years, generally in rhyme.

The purpose of weather lore was to instruct early farmers, sailors, herdsmen, and others on how to predict the weather. Its poetic nature made it easier to pass on to later generations. People who make their living outdoors depend on the weather. That has always been the case. Today, meteorologists make use of satellites, weather balloons, super computers, Doppler radar, and a complex communications network to produce reasonably accurate daily weather forecasts.

In earlier times, however, folks had to rely on other weather indicators to advise them on what kind of plans to make. Some of these indicators have a true correlation with factors that do affect the weather. Others have no relationship at all to the weather.

Many weather signs and sayings can really be used as a guide to how the weather is likely to develop 12 to 24 hours in the future. By making correct use of weather lore, you may find yourself with the ability to outguess the real weatherman with your own forecasts. At any rate, it may provide you with a greater appreciation of how the weather is interrelated with other elements of the natural environment.

An example of a saying that might hold some scientific validity concerns the house cat: “If the cat washes her face over the ear, it’s a sign the weather will be fine and clear.”

Cat fur can build up static electric charges when it gets very dry. During times of low humidity and fair weather, especially in the winter time when it is very dry, a cat may lick its fur in order to moisten it. Moist fur will shed electric charge and prevent static discharges, which annoy the cat.

Or consider this one: “When sounds travel far and wide, a stormy day will betide.” Sound travels better in air that is heavily laden with moisture than it does in dry air.

Of course some sayings make no scientific sense at all and if they do predict the weather it is only by accident. For example, many people repeat the old adage that the darker the woolly worm in the fall, the more severe the winter. But there is no scientific evidence that woolly worms know what the winter will bring.

Although weather lore can still be fun, and in some cases even accurate, knowledge of how weather works is much more reliable. Knowing, for instance that weather systems generally move from west to east is helpful if you know what the weather is like to your west.

That knowledge is easy to come by in this day of instant communication via the Internet. The Weather Underground site at is one of several sites that can show you what the weather is like anywhere. It even lists dozens of live outdoor cameras that ordinary people share over the Internet so you can actually see what is happening in any part of the country. I have my own weather camera listed.

I’m still afraid of severe weather, mostly high winds. But I know as long as I stay indoors, lightning is not likely to be a threat. So it’s only high winds that bother me now. The rest of the weather still fascinates me after all these years.

For an extensive list of weather sayings, visit SkyWatch: Signs of the Weather.

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